EXPLORING THE NOTIONS OF EMPTINESS AND FULFILLMENT

Review by Nahad-Ul-Quasem Orchid
February 15, 2014

 

 7th CRACK International Art Camp 2013,
December 25-30, 2013, Kushtia, Bangladesh

One visitor was sharing her view with a friend: “Last year they made an interesting video thing in this spot, did you see it then?” Her friend replied: “Yes, that was a bit different from this shadow art. I think this shadow art show is more fun than the last year’s video, what do you say?”They were in front of multidisciplinary artist Azmain Azad Katha’s shadow performance titled “Searching”. Such and many other visitors came, interacted with artists and enjoyed the creative works at the open day of 7th CRACK International Art Camp on December 30, 2013. Ithas become a regular social event in this locality nowadays.

Back in 2007, this brainchild of Artist Shawon Akand came into being at the Smaran Matsya Beej Khamar, Rahimpur, Kushtia – a south-western town of Bangladesh –in association with Artist Delowar Hossain’s efforts. They believed that artists’ willful interaction with each other will result in artworks that would connect with the various people’s journey, which artists often get inspirations from. The initiators’ notion that every form of art has an inter-relation and the necessity of developing these connections to create a favorable environment for the progress of artistic practice led to this organic collaboration among young activists of different cultural fields in Bangladesh. Therefore, apart from visual artists, people from other creative disciplines like theatre activists, photographers, filmmakers, psychologists, poets, writers, journalists, actors from the world are welcome in this art camp. That made the camp multidisciplinary by nature.

This 7th edition was curated by artist Rahul Anand from Bangladesh. His curatorial theme for this edition was “Life, Fulfillment and Emptiness”. 26 artists from five countries participated in this edition with their own interpretation of the theme. Participants mostly utilized local materials for their work in land art, site-specific installations, performance art, shadow artand collaborative performances.

 

This international art camp has been facilitating inter-disciplinary art practice exchange in a slightly different manner than conventional international art events. The core strength has been developed over years on becoming the melting pot of artists’ ideas. For setting the stage and chemistry of exchange on a more nuanced level, all participants had to go through basic communal practices of sharing with each other’s space and thoughts. Those steps were implemented via daily personal work presentations and group exploration of the locale. High emphasis was given on connecting their creative ideas with the natural environmental settings and cultures. Since this camp happens on a rural settings with rudimentary facilities, that glues the participants by nature of the environment to come together with collaborative projects based on the site.

Sikan Kumar, a multidisciplinary artist from Hyderabad, India created a large piece of Land Art titled “Welcome to Emptiness and Fulfillment of My Life”. He played with different shapes among various geometrical forms in the field. Natural colors, shelter making ingredients like jute sticks and banana leaves constituted the different forms in his grand layout. Dugout holes and accompanying piles of soil in exact shapes denoted the emptiness and fulfillment of his life. He engaged with the visitors to experience his fluctuation in space and his perception of life’s meaning in such oscillation.

Jeewan Suwal
 from Nepal mounted an organic site specific installation at the sideways of camp’s main entrance. His work, titled “From the Source to the Source”, intrigued viewers to look through the numerous jute-stick made square frames he hanged with invisible strings around the place. According to his belief, the relentless oscillating nature of human emotions, sensitivity, attachment, wills and desire emanates from a singular source that tries to achieve those things over a long spread of time. Hence the artist resembled visual of infinite space within finite frames, which were of course distinctively decorated with colorful tree leaves, snake foreskin and other found objects from nature.

A site specific installation titled “JOMOJ (The Twin)” by multidisciplinary artist Polash Chowdhury from Bangladesh was set at the bank of a pond. It was constituted within a two chamber concrete sink. One chamber filled with water and a lit-up half sunk balloon and the other chamber being empty with glass full of water on a tool placed at the center. The common error of humane perception about many notions of emptiness and fulfillment was intelligently interpreted with such stark subjective lenses put out for the visitors. The décor included empty human heads and shapes of hands crawling out of the pond printed with brick powders on the ground. The dimly lit atmosphere added some mystery too.

Visual artist Darrell Roberts from USA installed his site specific work “Our Energy Is the Only Thing We Leave Behind” in the west side field of the camp. Visitors were encouraged to sit on the banana leaves that was set in a square form. Then he took them through a ritual of looking into their own reflections on the calm water inside a terracotta earthen pot set at the middle of this installation. The leaves installation was laid on a cracked layer of farming land beside a water body. Hardened human footprints and cracks on the ground was utilized as a part of the installation. Inevitable mortal journey of human beings and the relentless search for meaning of life through experience and aspirations was kept at the center of this piece that invited visitors to question themselves about their own perceptions of existence in this earth.

Multi-disciplinary artist Satadru Sovan Bhanduri from Delhi, India was prolific with five projects in site specific installations, single and collaborative performances in this camp. His site specific installation titled “O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you” dealt with intersectional perception of  human soul manifested in body parts and whole body. The dried leaves, dead tree trunk, LED lights, net clothes, transparent prints on blue paper all together created a ethereal work of art. Visitors enjoyed accompanying poem that intensified their sense of soul in human body. His performance with multidisciplinary installation on boat was titled “Moon Light Make Me Lonely”. Artist Kanak Aditya accompanied him with singing in this piece. On a floating boat illuminated with blue LEDs and almost full Moon in the winter night had drawn visitors to this performance. A transcending sense of emptiness touched everyone there. Anotherof his installation was a site specific multidisciplinary one. Bamboo structure, transparent plastic, acrylic on the transparent paper and LED lights was used to erect a form shaped like a cocoon. He also did a collaborative performance art with artist Darrell Roberts on the field titled “How many Avenues in the life?”.  

Shakti Nomaan from Bangladesh was another prolific multidisciplinary artist with 3 projects in a series. His series was titled “After Childhood Memory”. The series constituted with two installations and a performance art. One installation was a seesaw made from bamboo. A transparent tube like apparatus with a play ball inside, was placed on top of it. When visitors rode on the seesaw that ball inside the transparent big tube oscillated between two ends. The inalienable nostalgia of childhood swept through the adult crowd, while the kid audience loved it most. The second installation was a large bamboo made park cradle. It was set beside the pond. Accompanying colorful small flags created the corollary environment for this series. He started the performance art from one bank of the pond and gradually went into the throat deep water. Later he emerged on the other bank of the pond. His three pieces harmonized the series, engaged the audience to reflect about their memory from early days of their lives. The process was beautiful and sad at the same time.

Artist Prabin Shrestha from Nepal worked with a notion of impermanence of physical senses and on the other hand eternal status of spiritual contentment in human existence. His work titled “Prodip” was actually 500 small floating lamps that were ceremoniously launched afloat by the visitors and all artists at the dusk. He made those lamps from earthen small saucers and dried leaves of trees. This ingenuity amazed a lot of audience. The ceremony of floating them on the pond was an exciting celebration of the open day. The fragility and strength of light from those numerous floating lamps on pond water invoked the perfect ambience for people to ponder on the cyclical experiences sorrow and happiness in everyone’s lives.

Artist Nilanjana Nandy from Gurgaon, India created a participatory site specific installation art titled “The Treasure Hunt”. It was spread over all directions on and around the lush greenery of camp site. Soon after entering the camp people found colorful shoe soles placed like foot prints on the ground. Starting to follow those trails on an instinctive urge led the audience to further corners of the camp site. There they eventually found interesting ‘treasures’. This art piece was the most extensively spread one among this year’s camp creations. From East to West and from South to North people have followed the footprint trails to discover what awaited for them. This participatory piece engaged audience with the whole process of journeying through the contradictory yet inseparable feelings of wonder and discomfort, joy and fear for themselves. The journey itself proved rewarding for the artist for all her efforts in this creative interpretation of the theme of emptiness and fulfillment in life.

Artist Kanak Aditya from Bangladesh created a multidisciplinary installation and performance art on pond water. His piece was titled “Sacrifice, Self-Purification, Fulfillment”. His wonderful vessel was made from banana trees and a canvas clothe made box was erected on top of it. A kerosene lamp illuminated the erected white clothed square from within. At the dusk he started his vessel on the shallow pond water, roamed around the entire pond and started singing his own composed song when he neared the bank. The romantic imagery created by the piece was further deepened by the heart wrenching lyrics and singing. The relentless struggle of city dwellers, constant trading of with sin and  convenience-comfort, yet harboring a deep urge for self purification was depicted in the whole piece. This constant dilemma and urge for achieving puritan fulfillment transcends boundaries of existence as humans in every society.

Performance Artist Rhine Bernardino from Philippine made the longest 11 hour non-stop dawn to dusk performance in front of a statue. Her performance art was titled “If you see the Buddha they said, Kill the Buddha they said”. Her portrayal of being immobilized by the invisible barriers constructed by the social/situational norms was manifested in this piece. She tried to experience through her endurance journey of standing on her feet on a single spot without any food or breaks for 11 hour at a stretch. She was mostly mute during her standstill performance. A few tools of destruction was laid on the ground between her and the statue. Her wardrobe and attire being that of a traditional Bengali woman’s Sari left a mixed reaction among the visitors. It was something this crowd had ambiguity in understanding. Then again, her journey to withstand and portray dissent in the manner she deemed fit made a strong impression.

Artist Rahul Anand from Bangladesh created two artworks in this camp. The installation from cut-out paper posters being hanged all over the camp site was titled “SHUNYO PHOOL (Empty Flower)” A flower shape was cut out from a white poster, the cut-out shape hanged below the poster creating two flowers in each poster, one blank and the other solid. The virtual flower created by the blank frame of each poster intrigued the viewer to question the creation process of the flower hanging below. In essence without creating space we could never fulfill them in our existence. His second site specific Installation was titled “SHUNYO STHAN (Empty Space)”. A square shaped dug out in the field with a square pile made in the exact inverse shape beside it constituted the core form. Around the core a larger square was covered with jute sticks. The mound on ground top was covered in red and white color pattern. Inside the dug out hole, candles were placed and lit up just before dusk. Later at night the jute sticks were put on fire. Sufis struggle to discover the kindle of wisdom and once they fulfill themselves with the knowledge they start lighting up others with the light of self-knowledge and peace. The embodiment of illumination and enlightenment was beautifully displayed in this piece. This work was dedicated to the Sufi practitioner Bodu bhai who passed away in the middle of 2013, he was instrumental in forming the spiritual shape of this annual art camp from it’s inception in 2007.

Visual artist Santos Sigdel from Nepal worked with the residual phenomenon of life experience, i.e. memory. His artwork is also titled “Memory”. Hundreds of small empty clay pots were hanged by white cotton strings from a tree branch in several closely knit layers. Each of the pot were colored with two adjacent layers of white and black. The entire shape took resemblance of a beehive, yet the color-contrast reminded visitors to look back into the happy and sad memories of their lives. The hide and seek of blankness and accomplishment in colored empty pots in unison provoked recollection in personal sphere.

Artist Pratap Morey from Mumbai, Indiainstalled an artwork titled “Sublimed Letters”. This installation incorporated the emotions of life and travel in letters and postcards. Jarred in illuminated transparent plastic bottles assorted on the ground, the letters contained many feelings of despair and joy from their senders. A letterbox was also there to give a sense of destination for those jarred feelings. 

Multidisciplinary artist Raihan Ahmed Rafi from Bangladesh worked with his series of two installation works titled “Life is a journey - 1& 2”. First installation was set on ground. Second one was made afloat on the pond water. Empty plastic bottles conjoined to a wheel-shape, frills of color ribbons at each end of a bottle, illuminated by hidden light sources from below created an ethereal aura around the two pieces both on ground and water. The only permanence of flow in our life journey was addressed in his work.  These wheels of life embodied the very circular nature of pain and gain in this world.

Artist Debasis Beura from Orissa, India made performance art titled “No idea - a state of emptiness or fulfillment”. His performance art was aimed at exploring the core of state of mind, where ideas germinate and flourish. He took a paintbrush and pot of dried leaves, then went to the visitors and other camp artists to ask for any idea they would like to share with him. He recorded each idea from a person to the blank leaves with color droplets. The dynamics of idea formation and the cognitive relationship it creates with the source was experimented in his performance.

Artist Azmain Azad Katha from Bangladesh made shadow performance art titled “Searching” and another collaborative project with Shegufta Sehnila Hena in this camp. The shadow art was performed behind a red canvas, where she completed a paintwork simultaneously with her performance. The constant search for meaning in life was her performance’s theme. The collaborative project titled “Relation Zero…” was a site specific installation made by large transparent plastic sheets shaped like two person’s heads facing each other, hanged from a bamboo frame over the water. Drawings and small ornaments accentuated the personality of the two people depicted in this relationship symbol. How we find ourselves dissolved in others, that idea got shape in this piece.

Artist Koustav Nag from Delhi, India worked with words, language and the changeability in their perceived notions among the populace who utilize them. His interactive performance and installation was titled “Vibration and Existence”. He installed Bengali words made from cut out card boards. The words were spelled in deconstructed pronunciation, they were also placed in such a way that their shadows appear on the ground or side walls. He also cut out a word on the ground, lit some candles around it and sat with a jaggery plaque where he curved out another word and distributed the cut out jaggery by calling out the visitors going around his work. It exemplified that words and meanings have different lives that are connected by the users of any language. 

Video Artist Saiful Islam Jarnal from Bangladesh created two distinctive works. His live video installation was titled “A Bioscope and Paper House”. People make homes where they share their love, dreams, anxiety, belongings with others; the object and subject flows and ebbs through time to weave the fabric of reality. Live video of the camp entrance was projected on the outer wall of the paper object installed house. Various paper made objects were hanged inside the room. Audience saw themselves walking in the large screen projection. His second project was a large wind chime made with found objects, bangles and steel hollow pipes installed on a tree beside the pond. It was titled “Sound Tree”.  The silence and chimes from the tree knitted the existential angst of human heart floating with wind.

Multidisciplinary Artist Murari Jha from Bihar, India made two performances. First one was titled “In Between Life”. He dug a hole on the ground beside the pond, deep enough for water to seep in from surrounding underground. There was a large fishing net spread across the hole, he kept digging as it went deep. He went as deep as his head was buried under field level. His narrative language of using the space, tools, people digging up holes for themselves, oozing underground water making sticky mud in the hole etc everything invoked the inferred philosophy of life happening in a state of constant dilemma between emptiness and fulfillment. His second performance installation titled “Identity” was held after dark. The word identity was made from wood and laid on the field inside a square perimeter. Later he set fire on the wooden letters; it burned slowly, leaving ash trace of composition of that word on the ground. This performance questioned the volatile nature of the notion identity in our perception. 

Artist Sadika Swarnafrom Bangladesh made an installation titled “Reconstruction: Childhood memory”. Deformed, partly burnt, needled plastic dolls were strapped by the colorful ribbons in a tree branch. Few candles were lit at the bottom of the tree. The stereotypical notion of womanhood being imposed on the child and the experience one has to go through in typical patriarchal societies was manifest in the work. Her second work was a painting installation on round walls. It was titled “Color of Desire”. It incorporated the texture and pre-existing forms on the surface.

Artist Bhuvanesh Kumar from Bangalore, India made an interactive performance art titled “Celebration”.He made Bengali style steamed rice cake Pitas with sweet jaggery and bitter Neem. He prepared a stall at the entrance of the camp and distributed the pitas after welcoming the visitors. He asked each visitor to share a wish with him, then gave them a rice cake. Sometimes it was sweet, sometimes bitter! The nature of our journey in life resembles the constant flux of joy and sorrow that we experience. His portrayal of that simple truth by utilizing local delicacy urged everyone to remember the higher goal of balancing the both sides and celebrate the life altogether. People enjoyed his art and his pitas, some were surprised to taste a bitter rice cake for the first time too.

Artist Tanzim Ahmed Bijoy from Bangladesh made an installation on the other bank of camp pond. It was titled “Fulfillment Lies Beneath Emptiness”. A wheel of balloons installed above ground on two sticks. The hard-wired circular structure camouflaged beneath the air filled balloons said it all.

Artist Shawon Akand from Bangladesh created a video art titled “Life is Beautiful”. It contained a dark mystic mood, the strong iconography of house/body, fire, humans gathering up and spreading out from the frame, all together conjured up never ending thirst of the human soul to find solace in this world. Strong visuals and apt live music by Rahul Anand culminated in engaging video art.

The closing night witnessed high hope for next year’s CRACK International Art Camp. All participants leaving Kushtia on the next morning shared a feeling of fellowship with the journey they had made and cherished the aspiration for future collaboration among themselves.